By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
7. Budapest One: Dunno how to describe this one, though most of you haven't heard the band yet, which warrants a description. OK, let's do this the trite way: part Jacques Brel, part Elvis Costello, part Antonio Carlos Jobim, part Buzzcocks. Bandleader Keith Killoren descended on Denton (rather, followed a girl there) a few years ago from Wisconsin, where his band 3-Liter Hit was doing well on the indie circuit. It took him a while to start up a new outfit, but Budapest One has been worth the wait, a perfect vehicle for Killoren's charmingly anachronistic sensibilities (he talks and writes lyrics like a pre-World War I theology scholar obsessed with sin). Killoren says he's hoping to pen an atomic song (meaning: perfect, watertight, reduced to its most crucial elements), but I say he already has, and that song is called "Comfortable." The crooner-cum-roarer has recruited bassist William Pollard (Cornhole) and drummer Steve Barnett (Baboon) to help out, and recorded one self-released tape chock-full of hooks that reach out and grab you--terrorist-style--by the throat. When they're not stroking you like a kitty.
8. Centro-matic at Dan's Bar, October 6: Guitarist-singer Will Johnson and keysman-fiddler Scott ("Scooter") Danbom took the stage that night as a sad, wiry duo, as unassuming as ever. They played all their slow, haunting stuff, and everyone in that bar knew this was Denton, if not rock itself, at its most distilled. This is what happens when a scene perpetuates and supports itself--something Dallas hasn't done since 1995.
9. Nick Lowe, Dig My Mood (Rounder): The Godfather of New Wave and Elvis Costello producer released his best work since 1979's Labour of Lust. Moody, mature, informed by genres as far-ranging as Gershwin to Delta blues, it not only showcases Lowe's mastery of style (not to mention production, and that shouldn't surprise anyone), but it also illuminates a man who's managed to age more gracefully and graciously than just about any other veteran out there. Yes, he did come through town to promote it. Almost all of you missed it, though, and in doing so missed one of the best shows of the year.
10. Tie: When Wiring Prank wouldn't talk and when Bobgoblin became the Commercials: Denton-based Wiring Prank has no recordings, plays live (in Denton) maybe twice a year, and won't talk to the press. This wouldn't matter if they sucked, but they don't, and they know it, so it's the anti-star, anti-band notion taken to extremes. "Um, we don't do interviews," one member sniffed after a plea. "We don't have anything to talk about right now." Bedhead would be proud.
Bobgoblin got screwed by their major label MCA, and instead of folding or breaking up, they simply shucked the pretty uniforms and goofy name, wrote a new set of songs, and re-emerged immediately as the Commercials. Now Hop Manski and his crew are stronger than ever. At a performance at the Curtain Club a few weekends back, the overflowing audience was so enthusiastic and encouraging, it almost had me believing there's a cohesive scene in this town. Almost.
Stark-Raving Mad About 1998
1. Beck, Mutations (DGC)
I'm 26 years old and losing touch fast. In the worst year for rock since, oh, 1997, I can no longer tell the difference between Master P and Puff Daddy. I know Outkast and Lauryn Hill are supposed to be important, but when I listen I can't tell why. Modern radio, whatever the hell that's supposed to be, plays far too much Sugar Ray and Limp Bizkit. I'm out of it, and it's starting to worry me.
Then Beck releases a new album, and not even a proper album--something he just tossed off in two weeks with his touring band and the guy who produced Radiohead's OK Computer. And suddenly I'm a fan of something popular, something other people like, a guy who gets nice write-ups in glossy magazines. Swirling about Mutations are bits and pieces from every record on my top 10 list this year, as well as my favorite reissues--Dylan's Live 1966, the Nuggets boxed set, Dock Boggs, and even the Donnas' rereleased first album of candy-coated teenage punk. Put the vinyl down on the turntable and call me a populist, like Beck.
2. Elliott Smith, XO (DreamWorks)
The lush, orchestrated XO--Smith's fourth solo record--isn't as bleak, emotionally or musically, as his earlier albums. While the arrangements sound more familiar, like long-lost pages from a George Martin comp book, paradoxically they're more complex than anything Smith's accomplished before, dense chamber pop with counter-melodies and complicated harmonies. Likewise, the spare character studies are convoluted and messy--and consequently more compelling. The finest character? Smith himself, brokenhearted, drunk, and "dragging the sunset down."
3. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Merge)
Rod Serling wrote a perfect review of Neutral Milk Hotel's second record in 1959. All I can do is dust it off for reprint. "And also, like all men perhaps there'll be an occasion--maybe a summer night sometime--when he'll look upon what he's doing and hear the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too because he'll know it's just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important, really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind."